THE BLOG
09/17/2014 04:07 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Gentle-Men

Heather Risinger

All of the coverage of NFL players having trouble with violence off the field should not be a surprise to any of us. My kid played high school football, and we learned early on that a football locker room can be riddled with hatred, bigotry, racism, homophobia and misogyny. I wasn't too terribly sad when my oldest boy decided to give up football and join the academic decathlon team. He loved the game, and would practice hard for the opportunity to play just one play. He loved the work ethic and the brotherhood, but the actual mentality of his teammates made him rethink the whole enchilada. He didn't want to partake in the cruelty, and had no respect for what many of them stood for. I was proud that he tried, and I was even prouder that he survived some difficult hazing, and I was most proud to hear him articulate why the "culture" of the sport did not work for him, and that he left on his terms.

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With three boys, I can't help but wonder what I can do to make sure they become men that respect others and use their words and their talents rather than their fists to solve problems. Honestly, I think it starts from the beginning. When baby boys start to take in the world, they are soaking all of our behavior up like a sponge. It might be smart to show them that men can be manly, and gentle, at the same time.

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I think team sports are important, and learning to win with grace and lose with dignity is an essential part of the childhood experience. I also think that if boys are spending a great deal of time with their coaches, those coaches should coach as they see fit. They may also want to remind their boys that crashing into each other for the sake of a sport is for the field, and not for off the field. Their wives, girlfriends and partners are not wearing protective gear. I don't think it is ever too early to start this discussion, do you?

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In America, we put so much money, time and energy into the football or (insert favorite sport here) dream. There are other activities out there, too. I think some of them offer a different, gentler perspective for our boys. When I was a child, a boy at the dance studio was unheard of. It is 2014 and high time our boys feel comfortable pursuing any and everything that interests them. My 5-year-old plays t-ball, swims, loves pirates, super heroes and sword fights. His trampoline talents are endless. Still, what is his most favorite thing? Well, that would be the Dapper Dans of Disneyland. That's right! My son loves these gentlemen in stripes who sing four-part harmony and tap dance. He goes to tap dance class with boys and girls and he wants every outfit the Dapper Dans have. He worships them. In his eyes, and mine, they are every bit a man as Drew Brees or Peyton Manning.

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Now, my husband is a military man. He is broad in the shoulders, often seen wearing a football or hockey jersey, a Detroit Tigers baseball cap and exudes "manliness." When he salutes a flag, you stand back in awe. He is one to jump out of an airplane, ride a motorcycle, be cast as a construction worker in a TV commercial and loves football. So serious is this love, I included the importance of his fantasy football league in our marriage vows. He is also a gentle father, who loves his academic decathlon studying son and carries around his mini Dapper Dan with joy. The manliest thing he does is enjoy and support whatever his children want. He teaches them how to treat a spouse by example. He hugs and kisses me often. He hugs and kisses them often. Maybe gentle touches of a parent are what were missing from the lives of those men who become violent and mistreat their women and children?

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I'm sure there is so much more to it than this. That said, I think it is a good place to start. If we want to change the future, we have to consider these things now. Let's let our boys read books, make bracelets, tap dance, sing, make music and anything else they want to do, with no judgment. Let's make sure that they experience men being just as affectionate as women. Let's listen to them, and tell them how proud we are of them. Let's hug them more and nurture their ever-growing hearts to be gentle-men.

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